Review written by Kyra Ward
Although feminism is one of the most discussed political topics of our generation, its influence within the arts realm has yet to be fully explored. Movies may now feature all-female casts, and television may be starting to broach female characters with the same depth and uniqueness as their male counterparts, but it all seems to be in reaction—merely a veritable statement of, ‘women can do the same thing as men.’ It is altogether rare to experience a piece of art completely reacting to this male presence, not trying to mimic its stories and tropes, but creating a new perspective entirely. PUSH, a play written and directed by Karin-Sofia Johansson and co-directed by Elsa Klein, attempts and succeeds at creating a distinct narrative of the interplay between feminism, sexual assault, relationships and the constant strain of an unyielding patriarchal structure.
The play itself isn’t realistic, and it isn’t meant to be. A surrealist take on the process of everyday life, the story follows an unnamed female character played by Hanna Jay. The entire play takes place in her bedroom, initially just depicting the struggle of getting out bed while her clingy, well-meaning, but entirely ignoramus boyfriend is begging her to stay. Although the main character explains in multiple different ways to her boyfriend that she has to leave and go to work, he incessantly comes up with excuses along the lines of, ‘why do you even need to work? I have money, just let me take care of you?’ These excuses initially seem endearing, but eventually they become more obviously him not understanding why she wants autonomy, and confused why she’s not happy being defined by his desires and goals. This all culminates in the main character agreeing to hold her important business meeting in their living room. Here we meet the second toxic male character, a very domineering boss, reminiscent of Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump. Clearly the antagonist, the audience comes to realize that this boss has no respect for the main character’s project, or for women in general. By the end, it is revealed that he has sexually assaulted our heroine before, and plans to do it again—before she stabs him in the neck with a pen, killing him.
The second act picks up after this murder and deals with the aftermath, touching on the idea of society’s trope of the hysterical woman, while very clearly showing the audience why she has been driven to ‘madness’. It finishes with the boyfriend ‘saving’ the main character by hijacking her story, taking her words, and making them his own. In a remarkably funny scene for such a serious play, the boyfriend and an errant policeman (who came to check on an unpaid TV license) end up becoming best friends and leave the main actress alone. This is after stealing her story and confessing guilty to the boss’s murder, the boyfriend and police officer leave to get pints, finally leaving the main character alone on stage for the first time. The final scene is a monologue, expertly performed, when we fully face the reality of our heroine who has no job, no boyfriend and has now lost the narrative of her own sexual assault. It was dark and it was meaningful to watch.
All of the actors and actresses did a spectacular job—in particular, the boss (Holly Gomez) and the main actress (Hanna Jay) made the audience question if they were watching a professional performance. With nearly sold-out nights, PUSH was a wonderfully done piece of theatre.